Bruce Arena: The Most Sensible Man in U.S. Soccer?

Former U.S. national team and three-time MLS Cup champion coach Bruce Arena appeared on Major League Soccer’s ExtraTime Radio podcast yesterday, and he opened up a can of … refreshing candor and common sense.

As co-host Greg Lalas told us, “He’s at a stage in his career now where he can just speak his mind.” Speak his mind he did. Some of the highlights:

On current U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s statements that American players have too much time off:

“I would say this: the only reason players around the world play 10-and-a-half months is because those clubs have to schedule that for revenue purposes. I think every club around the world would probably tell you, ‘Our players are run into the ground. They need more rest, and their time off is invaluable.’

“Let’s look at the top two clubs in the world: Barcelona and Real Madrid. Do you think that the best thing for Lionel Messi to do is just continue to play and play and play in the offseason? Those players are taxed to their limits. They’re being pushed as hard as you can push them, and the time off is valuable. [But] listen: there’s no question that a player in MLS who stops playing in October and doesn’t resume training until late August [he said August, but we’re pretty certain he meant January.—Ed.] that’s a little too long. However, there’s nothing wrong with players having six to eight weeks off. Your body needs time to recover and have a reasonable preseason—there’s nothing wrong with that.

“I agree with some of Jurgen’s comments that the MLS players could have an extended season, but on the other hand, looking at the other way, players around the world are run into the ground and they need the proper rest of the offseason. So, it’s give-and-take in both area.”

Heads were nodding in agreement at the Backpost World HQ while Arena said the above. When Klinsmann made his statements about wanting guys to play 11 months a year, we were reminded of some old comments by NBA legend Bill Walton, who said that pro basketball players actually had to “get out of shape” to properly recover from the pounding of an NBA season. Sounded reasonable to us, and perfectly applicable to soccer players. Your body needs downtime to recover. Your mind does too.

On the search for the “American style” that Klinsmann has frequently mentioned:

“Well the American style is what we always said it is. And it hasn’t changed. It’s always been that, and there was this kind of rumor that we were all of a sudden going to have a team with a great flavor of Hispanic players and Mexican-Americans and all of that. Do you see any of those on the field right now?”

No. No, we don’t. We did see defenders Michael Orozco Fiscal and Edgar Castillo on the field not too long ago, but … it didn’t work out for either of them.

But hey, Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna are both on the U.S. Soccer staff now and … Junior Flores is a bona fide U-17 star. So… that elusive “American style” could yet emerge.

On Clint Dempsey’s current form and the clamor for him to go to a bigger club:

 “Clint has obviously grown tremendously as a player. He’s a guy I had with the national team, and if you can excuse my French, we used to say all the time, ‘He tries s-h-*-t.’ So he has the courage to try things on the field and be an aggressive attacking player. And that’s very rare for American players, and Clint has always had that kind of confidence and uniqueness to himself. I think he’s at a club that’s very good for him. And I’m just hopeful that—there’s a lot of speculation that he’s going to move on—and I think that has to be balanced properly, because one thing he can be assured of at Fulham is that he’s going to be on the field. That’s a nice match right now. To alter that, I hope it isn’t a move that may impact his ability to continue to play on a consistent basis.”

You can listen to the rest of the interview, along with an appearance from Seattle winger Steve Zakuani, right here.

Appearing on ETR a week ago, Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl was asked about David Beckham’s recent decision to stay in Los Angeles. In addition to the reasons commonly cited—lifestyle, family’s happiness, growing the game here—Wahl, who wrote a book about Beckham and the Galaxy in 2009, mentioned Arena, saying he thinks Beckham came to realize “that Bruce Arena is an amazing coach. Who has completely turned around what was one of the most dysfunctional teams [the 2008 Galaxy] we’ve ever seen in Major League Soccer.”

Hopefully, Arena won’t be needed to perform a similar 180 in a second stint with the USMNT any time soon—but it’s nice to know he’s there.

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